Council Postpones Terrorism Task Force Vote
Resolution for More Oversight Draws Community Support, FBI Criticism

looks nervous at Council] On March 30, after a four-hour-plus hearing on Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Randy Leonard's resolution requiring more civilian oversight of the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force (PJTTF) (and all federal-local task forces), City Council voted 3-2 to postpone the vote until April 20. At PPR deadline, that date was again moved to April 27.

The PJTTF struggle has been going on since 2000, when Portland Copwatch discovered the existence of the group which deputizes Portland "Criminal Intelligence Unit" (CIU) officers as federal agents and allows them to work with the FBI tracking broadly defined terrorist threats (see PPRs #23, 25, 28 & 31). Each year since then, community demands for more oversight and/or withdrawal from the PJTTF have led to more concessions from the FBI. First, they said that Senator Ron Wyden had the ability to oversee the activities of the PJTTF to be sure that Portland officers were complying with Oregon law and not investigating people for their ethnic, social, religious, or political affiliations. That turned out to be untrue. Later, in 2003, the FBI offered "Secret" security clearance to the Mayor (who is Commissioner of Police) and the Chief. However, it was later learned that the officers in the PJTTF are given "Top Secret" security clearance, so the elected official in charge of the police employees still does not have equal access to information.

In the weeks prior to the vote, Portland FBI Director Robert Jordan told the Associated Press that there were people in Oregon who "have trained in jihadist camps in bad areas, in the bad neighborhoods of the world." When pressed for details, he refused to provide any. He stuck to his story, even after meeting with concerned members of the Portland area Arab and Muslim community, and after the ACLU and others labelled Jordan's announcement a scare tactic.

On March 23, Commissioner Leonard (a former Portland firefighter) and Mayor Potter (a former Portland police chief) introduced a resolution requiring access to information for the Commissioner/Mayor, the Police Chief and the City Attorney equal to the officers on the PJTTF. This could mean lowering the officers' clearance to "Secret" or raising the other clearances to "Top Secret." The resolution would have given the FBI 90 days to comply or the City would leave the Task Force. [Oregonian editorial 

The FBI's response was swift and clear: There is no way we are going to give top secret clearance to "politicians."

National headlines popped up claiming Portland was planning to vote to leave the PJTTF. The Oregonian ran its unprecedented fourth and fifth editorials urging council not to leave the Task Force. The Portland Tribune interviewed only businesspeople (including the director of the "Citizens Crime Commission") supportive of the Task Force in their final article on the matter, despite that paper's earlier history of releasing hundreds of files kept on Portland citizens by the Portland Police (see PPR #28).

At the end of the hearing, after 43 people testified in favor of the resolution (or for going further and leaving the Task Force) and only 8 testified to stay in the PJTTF regardless of the clearance issue (or to postpone a decision), it came time to vote.

[Mercury: Be Very 
Afraid] Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who in the past was a staunch supporter of the PJTTF, revealed that he agreed to put the resolution on the agenda as a bargaining chip to get more oversight--but he was swayed by the US Attorney's testimony that a compromise could be reached within a few weeks. (The FBI and the US Attorney did not bring information to resolve issues at the hearing--such as, do other police commissioners have Top Secret clearance? Is there a way the Portland officers can work in the Task Force without Top Secret access, since they apparently don't ever use Top Secret information, but only need it to be able to go unescorted into the FBI building to work every day?) Saltzman's biggest argument to postpone the vote, however, was that the media was present and he feared they would report that Portland decided to leave the Task Force, even though Mayor Potter explicitly pointed out it was about oversight.

To be fair, Saltzman is right, in that at least one TV station characterized the vote as being about whether Portland would leave the Task Force--but wrong to postpone in that the vote was a matter of principle in the storm of anti-terror hysteria, and regardless of what the media says, it is up to elected officials to take principled actions.

Leonard revealed that he had previously dropped provisions of the resolution to secure Saltzman's support. Potter supported the idea of postponing the vote. Commissioners Adams and Sten were silent when Saltzman made a motion to postpone the vote; Potter ended up seconding it. It looked like a 2-3 vote, with the postponement going down.

[KATU: Potter 
vs. the FBI] Adams voted no (once he realized the nature of the motion), followed by Leonard, who was clearly disappointed that the vote would no longer be unanimous. Then Commissioner Erik Sten, with the swing vote, spoke at length on the FBI's past history of misleading the Council about oversight...but voted to support the motion. With Saltzman and Potter chiming in, the vote was postponed.

The public testimony, as usual, was impassioned and informed. It began with a roster of organizational representatives from the ACLU, Japanese American Citizens League (again warning that the end result of unchecked war hysteria is internment camps), the League of Women Voters (urging transparency), Portland National Organization for Women, the Multnomah Meeting of Friends/Quakers, International Longshore and Warehouse Union #8 (who related that the Dept. of Homeland Security threatened to charge them with "economic terrorism" for a strike action), the Community Language and Culture Bank (speaking of the effect of the Task Force on the Muslim community) and many more.

It seems ironic that all this testimony, which seemed to keep the attention of at least a few Commissioners at any given time, had less influence than the appointed FBI agent in charge, the US Attorney and the Chief of Police, when the very issue at hand was that these law enforcement officials should not be dictating public policy.

Ultimately, Potter announced that he was inviting the ACLU to sit in on the negotiations with the FBI as they work out the details to satisfy the City's concerns. It will be interesting to see whether the FBI, now that the City has revealed it has no intention to withdraw from the Task Force, will concede anything.

In summary, the question of who exerts outside influence on the City Council is important, but the politics among elected officials at City Hall play an equal role in whether public input is ignored. We will continue to monitor the JTTF issue, but it is clear that promoting police accountability in Portland is as complicated as it ever was, even under Mayor Katz and her various chiefs of police.

For more info contact the ACLU of Oregon at 503-227-3186.


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